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Lawmakers unhappy with lawyers for not divulging insurance exchange conflict of interest

Lawmakers unhappy with lawyers for not divulging insurance exchange conflict of interest

Dustin Hurst
June 26, 2013
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June 26, 2013
[post_thumbnail] Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, is one of the legislators upset with the lack of disclosure by health exchange lawyers.

A pair of Idaho lawmakers are crying foul after two lawyers associated with the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange lobbied legislators to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

State Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, told IdahoReporter.com Tuesday that at last week’s Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) conference in Coeur d’Alene, two lawyers from the Boise-based Hawley Troxell law group pushed Medicaid expansion without disclosing the firm’s tie to the Idaho health exchange, a state entity building an online insurance marketplace as part of Obamacare.

State Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said last month that the exchange pays Hawley Troxell on an hourly basis for legal services.

Boyle and Trujillo, who both voted against the exchange in the Idaho House earlier this year, said the pro-Medicaid presentation without disclosure represented a conflict of interest for the attorneys.

“How unbiased can you be?” asked Trujillo, adding that the connection between the firm and the exchange was “kind of an important point” that she said the lawyers should have made public.

Boyle said before the presentation, she’d hoped for a pro/con type of discussion from the attorneys, a desire the lawyers didn’t fulfill. “They were both pro, of course,” Boyle said. “We were a little ticked off.”

Only after the presentation, when privately confronted by Trujillo, did Tom Mortell, one of the attorneys, admit the firm’s connection to the exchange. “That was never brought up during the presentation,” Trujillo said.

Emails about the presentation sent to Mortell and co-presenter Rick Smith were not returned.

In its conference summary, IACI recounted that Mortell and Smith “gave the attendees a new perspective on health care reform and Medicaid redesign.”

The Hawley Troxell website delivers perhaps a more apt description of the presentation, boasting beforehand that the attorneys would explain to lawmakers “why Medicaid expansion is good for Idaho.”

The presentation, found here, offers a markedly pro-expansion bent. “In actual costs to state and county governments, Idaho will be better off electing Medicaid expansion (assuming the promised federal match), although costs will still be higher than without ACA (Obamacare),” says one slide.

Another touts “the overall infusion of money into the state economy” Medicaid expansion would bring to the Gem State.

IACI President Alex Labeau told IdahoReporter.com that he hired the law firm to explain the tax and fee scenarios facing businesses if the state chooses to accept or reject Medicaid expansion.

Did he mind the lawyers’ pro-expansion tilt? Not really. “That didn’t bother me at all,” LaBeau said, adding that lawmakers can make up their own minds on expansion.

Lawmakers will likely tussle in a big way over Medicaid expansion in the 2014 legislative session. A working group commissioned by Gov. Butch Otter recommended expansion of Medicaid.

Still, lawmakers like Trujillo and Boyle show hesitance about the idea of pushing more people onto government-run health care.

According to estimates, expanding Medicaid could add more than 100,000 Idahoans to the health program’s current 200,000-plus participants.

If the state chooses to expand, the federal government will completely cover the expenses for new enrollees—the single, working poor—for three years, before sliding down to 90 percent coverage in 2020.

According to a November 2012 Kaiser Family Health Foundation report, states will increase their Medicaid spending by $76 billion during the next decade. The federal government, covering the bulk of the costs, will hike its Medicaid spending by $952 billion during the same time period.

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